92-year-old fights to keep family home, property in Lumby, B.C., after being sued by developer
Doreen Koch has spent over $100,000 fighting the lawsuit over the last 3 years
Doreen Koch never thought she'd be spending the last years of her life fighting a court battle to hold onto her family home.
"I'm not getting any younger," said the 92-year-old woman, speaking from the kitchen table of her decades-old family home in Lumby, B.C., a 90-minute drive northeast of Kelowna.
Koch is being sued by a North Vancouver developer, who says her son agreed to sell him the 10-acre property in the B.C. Interior that has been in their family for over 80 years.
Koch and her family say they've spent over $100,000 fighting the lawsuit over the last three years.
According to a lawsuit filed in March 2021 in Vancouver Supreme Court, Koch's late son, Collin Jenkins, entered into a contract of purchase and sale, to sell the land to Matthew Timothy Wilson for $475,000.
Court documents identify Wilson as "a businessperson who resides in North Vancouver."
The lawsuit alleges that on July 10, 2020, Wilson entered into a contract of purchase and sale with Koch and Jenkins, to sell the property to Wilson.
Power of attorney at crux of case
In her response to the lawsuit, Koch says her son agreed to sell the property without her knowledge or consent, a decision she still doesn't fully understand.
"I don't know [why he did it]," she said. "But it's hard to condemn someone."
Koch, in her response to the lawsuit, also says her son suffered from end-stage liver disease in the months leading up to the sale contract, and had "impaired cognition resulting from hepatic encephalopathy."
Colin Jenkins died on Aug. 11, 2020, barely a month after the lawsuit alleges the contract was signed.
According to Wilson's lawsuit, Jenkins had claimed he was authorized to make the sale because his mother had given him power of attorney.
Koch admits she executed a power of attorney naming Jenkins, her only child, as her primary attorney.
However, she says she stored the document in her safety deposit box so that it could not be used without her authorization, and that Jenkins didn't have a copy or access to the original.
"If you don't have a power of attorney, how can you say that was completed?" she said.
Koch says the power of attorney was also never registered with the Land Title Office. She lodged a caveat on her property with the Kamloops Land Title Office on July 31, 2020, days after she says she found out about the sale contract.
The caveat prevents the land from being sold to Wilson.
In Wilson's initial lawsuit, he also sued the Realtors and Century 21, the real estate brokerage involved in the listing and sale of the property, stating they told him Jenkins had a valid power of attorney without taking steps to verify whether that was the case.
The case against the two Realtors working on Wilson's behalf has since been dismissed.
Koch's lawyer says it's unusual that a power of attorney would be invoked without having to produce the original.
"Even if Colin had the power of attorney in his hand, our Power of Attorney Act says that you have to act within the adult's best interests," explained lawyer Jana Keeley, based in Kelowna.
"The fact that this was done behind Doreen's back, without any consultation and without her knowledge, it's what's called a breach of fiduciary duty."
Wilson claims property is 'unique'
Wilson's lawsuit states Koch's property is unique and "no replacement is available."
In a response to questions from CBC News, Wilson's attorney Nathan Rayan provided a written statement.
"Mr. Wilson is very sympathetic to Ms. Koch's age, and to her challenging internal family dynamics which he only learned about after he purchased the property through a real estate agent," reads the statement.
"Mr. Wilson has no intention of evicting Ms. Koch from her home: she is welcome to live on the property for the rest of her life."
Koch says she never had any intention of selling her family land and still hopes to see it passed down through her family.
"I could always come in and just relax when I got here and it was always a stopping place for any of the nephews and nieces or brothers or sisters."
Koch currently lives in the old family home on the property, with her niece Penny Treen, who acts as her caregiver.
Treen, who was already named in Koch's will in 2018, has become her aunt's beneficiary due to Jenkins' passing.
"It's unjust what's happening," said Treen.
"In my being, it's always been a safe place for me and I just would really like to be able to bring the property back a little bit while Doreen is still alive."
Legal costs mounting
Both Koch and Treen say they have spent all of their savings on legal bills.
"We're broke," said Treen. "We owe a lot of money but what's really under it is the injustice. I'm angry and this has always been my home as well."
She says both she and her aunt experience chronic anxiety.
"The unpredictability and the uncertainty are so steady that this sense of vulnerability has just crawled inside and it feels like there's nowhere safe anymore."
Treen says her aunt's physical and mental health have deteriorated in the last three years.
"I'm worried that it will kill [her]," she said. "The stress is just devastating."
The case is currently set to go to trial in early May in a New Westminster courthouse, about 20 kilometres east of Vancouver. Koch could be facing an additional $100,000 in legal costs.
She says she doesn't want to go to trial and is apprehensive at the idea that she may have to testify and be cross-examined.
"There's a day or two when I feel that I could do it," she said. "But there's more days that I know that I'll be confused, that I won't remember."